Upcoming Dates To Put On Your Calendar: Annual BBQ Picnic, Fourth Friday Shabbat, The First Day of Beit Sefer, and a New Blog Series

Annual BBQ Picnic

Sunday August 18th, Noon-2ish. Olson Park.

From the Annual Picnic 2015
Olson Park https://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/parks-places/pages/Olson.aspx
1515 Dhu Varren Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
AARC will provide drinks, charcoal and paper products. You bring something to grill, a side dish to share, and your summer stories! The BBQ will be at a new location this year, Olson Park.
Our annual BBQ picnic is a very nice time for all ages to relax together, introduce new people to the congregation, reconnect after summer travels.
Thinking of joining? New member? Want to meet Rabbi Ora? Everyone welcome!

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Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat

August 23rd 6:30pm, JCC of Ann Arbor

Come connect with community, rest, recharge, rejuvenate. Everyone welcome. Please volunteer to buy or bake challah, help set up, greet people, and do dishes after the meal.
  • Tot Shabbat, 5:45-6:15. With Rabbi Ora and Clare, singing and a story. RSVP requested but not required, by emailing Clare, ckinberg@gmail.com Opens in new tab Opens in new tab. Pizza for tots and other children at 6:15pm.
  • Kabbalat Shabbat/Welcoming Shabbat musical service with Rabbi Ora begins at 6:30. Elementary age children are encouraged to join the adult service during first half hour.
  • Potluck dinner for all, 8pm. Please bring a delicious, generously portioned, vegetarian dish to share after the service. **Nothing with nuts! The JCC is a nut-free building.**

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First day of Beit Sefer/ Religious School

Sunday September 15, 9:30am-11:30am

There will be a parent meeting during the first session of Beit Sefer beginning at 10:00 in the Gelman Lounge. Clare Kinberg will be in touch with families prior to the start of Beit Sefer to discuss class assignments.

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Blog Series on what it means to truly be a ‘Welcoming Congregation’

AARC will be hosting a new blog series that explores how we might truly engage in the process of making everyone feel welcome in our congregation. Some topics we will be exploring will include gender inclusion, accessibility, and appropriate touch.

Lots to look forward to ahead, and all of this is leading up to the High Holidays! I look forward to seeing everyone soon at these fun and engaging events!

Otto Nelson’s Bar Mitzvah Dvar: Chukat

Shabbat Shalom, everyone!
Welcome to my bar mitzvah! I hope you’ve been enjoying it so far.
My torah portion is Chukat.
It’s a bit of an inconsistent portion, because it starts with Adonai (also known as G-d) detailing a purification ritual to be used after contact with the dead, which I am focusing on, but about a third of the way in it jumps to the story of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness.
The aliyah (section of Torah) I just read is Numbers, chapter 19, verses 18 to 22.
My aliyah focuses on the details of the purification ritual.
According to the Torah, this purification ritual is required after contact with a human body, grave, or bone.
It was believed that contact of this sort makes a person spiritually or ritually unclean.
Purification involves sprinkling water containing the ashes of a Red Heifer (mentioned earlier in my Torah portion) on the unclean person, after which they must wash themselves and their clothes and remain isolated from others for a period of 7 days.
If they do not undergo this ritual they are cut off from the congregation, a punishment known as Karet. Rabbis were and are not sure exactly what this punishment entails, but some theories are premature death, death without children, or generally very bad things.
On that happy note:
You may have noticed that these laws about death and contact with the dead seem very strict, and a bit strange, which brings up the question: Why were these laws created?
I think one reason is for the sake of physical purity (I’ll talk about that later), in that it helps avoid the spread of disease. However, I think it was mainly for religious purity. I think the ritual was designed to keep the perceived sanctity of the congregation by acknowledging the dead but not allowing them to negatively impact the community.
However, I think now we should look at what other people think the purpose of this ritual is, through rabbinical commentary. A traditional addition to a D’var torah, rabbinical commentary is essentially looking back at observations on the Torah portion made by past Jewish scholars to see what they think (Like looking at the comments on a YouTube video, except generally more positive and much older).
Rabbi Joseph Bechor Shor, a rabbi who lived in France in the 13th century, speculated that the purification ritual was to assist with physically letting go of the dead, and avoiding the practice of incorporating dead bodies into physical objects and adornments, a tradition among several neighboring tribes at the time and place the Torah was written. He also held that it is a natural tendency to physically cling to loved ones who have died, and that the ritual exists to warn Jews against this tendency. However, Rabbi Samson Hirsch, a 19th century German rabbi, claimed that the meaning was more symbolic, showing the Jewish people that there is a possibility of redemption from sin, such as the sin of touching a dead body.
Additionally, allow me to note that Rabbi Yochanan (A first century rabbi who saved Judaism in a super-dramatic way that should REALLY be made into an action film), Rabbi Isaac (A student of Yochanan), and Rabbi Joshua of Sikinin (A lesser-known Talmudic rabbi), believed that the ritual is not made to be understood or have a reason behind it.
Now, the reasons I just quoted are more spiritual reasons for this ritual,
but I also want to mention possible practical or medical reasons.
A possible medical reason for the ritual was to use water to wash off bacteria from the person and their clothes, which were possibly infected from diseases carried by dead bodies, and then put the person in a quarantine for any remaining germs or effects to die off.
Strange thing is, the biblical purification ritual in my Torah portion seems in line with modern medical practices. However, this is thousands of years before modern medicine. So how could the ritual use ideas similar to those of contemporary medical science?
Personally, I think that the connection is coincidental. After all, when we do something that works, we continue to do it. And in ancient times, the health benefits of certain rituals could be seen as divine signs to continue them.
At the core of this ritual is purity. But what is purity? Physical purity? Religious purity? And what do these things mean in today’s world?
Personally, I think that the idea of purity, both religious and physical, is really mostly a social construct. Although how clean or healthy you are can affect physical purity, I think what you and others think about you is most of what’s taken into account. And the case of religious purity is even more heavily opinion-focused.
In today’s world, purity does not seem to be as common a topic, at least not obviously. However, I think that these ideas of purity still exist, just in a more cloaked form. When people make decisions based on physical health or look, I think that’s really just a different form of the idea of physical purity. And when people make decisions based on what they think of another person’s religion or culture, I think that’s just another branch of the idea of religious or ethical purity.
But now to my mitzvah project.
Because my portion is focused on purity and purifying, for my project my friend Eli (who had his Bar Mitzvah last month) and I swept up the memorial garden behind the JCC, planted new plants, added mulch, and weeded it, in a way restoring natural purity to it. Also, my Mom and I worked with a community organization known as NAP herps that monitors frog and salamander populations, which are indicators of natural vibrancy and purity. Finally, my family and I planted 150-something native butterfly bushes in my grandparent’s land in west Michigan, to restore some natural, native purity.
Anyway…
At this point, I have discussed purity in today’s world, talked about my mitzvah project, asked a rhetorical question and then answered it, given the interpretations of rabbis over the centuries, and given medical and spiritual reasons for this ancient ritual. I know at this point ya’ll are probably getting hungry for the luncheon, and I relate, so I’ll make this quick.
In our congregation, it’s customary for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah to ask a question of the congregation (Don’t worry, this one’s not rhetorical), so here’s mine. Throughout my D’var torah, I’ve explored many questions about purity. But now I have a question about purity for you to discuss, and that’s “What does purity, and for that matter impurity, mean to you?”

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And to conclude, I would like to thank everyone who has helped me reach where I am today.
Thank you to:
-My Dad, David Erik Nelson, and my Mom, Cara Jeanne Spindler for helping and supporting me throughout my Bar Mitzvah and my life.
-My little sister Aziza, for, uhh…
Hmm…
Teaching me, and pushing me to my limit of, patience and understanding…
-Linda, Mojo, Riley, Danny, Justin, Ava, Henry, Vince, Sarah, Hannah, and anyone else who lives outside of the state and were willing to take the time and effort to come here
-My tutor, Deb, for helping me through my torah and haftarah portions.
-Rabbi Ora, for helping with my D’var torah.
-Anyone who has supported me in my life, be it a friend, family member, pet…
-And finally, everyone who came here to my bar mitzvah today! Thank you all so much!

A look back at Beit Sefer 5779

by Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg

Building the Sukkah at Carole Caplan’s Farm on Jennings, a Beit Sefer tradition

I sent out a survey for parents last week seeking feedback on the past year of religious school, and in the process, I took a mental stroll through the year. It was a good one, with several innovations.

Collecting the s’kach, roof coverings.

For several years now, we have built a sukkah at Carole Caplan’s Farm on Jennings as a way to start off the year. This year we added an optional sleep over! For the sukkah building, a few new families joined us. Cooking out, putting up tents, having Beit Sefer outside, all of it was a lot of fun.

Rabbi Ora and congregants unroll our Torah scroll, believed to be over 200 years old.
Searching the scroll

For Simchat Torah this year we unfurled our Torah scroll at the JCC, with Rabbi Ora leading some Torah investigation. Parents and students got a close in look at our very old and unusual Torah.

Human Menorah

For Hanukkah we had some in class parties and latke making. Sufganiyot making at Clare’s house.

If fact, food figured into several lessons! We have a few challah bakers, donut makers, and latke fryers among our parents and teachers.

This year we joined the Jewish Cultural Society’s Purim Carnival in the gym for fun, games and shaloach manot/Purim gifts making.

Planting trees at County Farm Park

Finally, we had our first picnic/tree planting at County Farm Park. Back during the winter, when we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, the most we could do was think about planting trees. That’s when I hatched the idea to plan a tree planting expedition. With some great networking by Stacy, we got in touch with the County Farm Park Naturalist Shawn Severance. Shawn set us up to plant more than a dozen persimmon, paw paw, and plum trees.

Innovations in the classroom included, Aaron Jackson and madricha Rose Basch leading the G’dolim in making pin ball machines that tell the stories of the Golem of Prague and the Passover journey. Shlomit Cohen added a six week unit on Israel, and Rabbi Ora taught a unit on the Bedtime Shema.

Visualizing the Bedtime Shema

All in all, the greatest successes of the year included community building, camaraderie among the students, parents and teachers, and growing commitments to Jewish learning. Special shout out to our madrachim, Rose Basch, Avi Lessure and Zander McClain. After several years of being helpers in the classroom, Rose and Avi are moving on. We will miss them!

Beit Sefer Picnic and Native Tree Planting

Photos and Article Credit: Fred Feinberg

On Sunday, May 5, Beit Sefer students, teachers, and parents congregated (as congregations do!) at Country Farm Park for not only our annual picnic, but to help plant indigenous fruit trees at County Farm Park’s Pollinator Garden. We all first learned about indigenous vs. non-native species, then donned protective gloves and took up hoes, handsaws, and strangely powerful branch clippers. 

Implements in hand, we helped take several non-native honeysuckle trees down to stumps, clear away debris, and prepare the ground for planting trees and shrubs native to our area — paw paw, American plum, persimmon, and chestnut — learning about each from a park representative. While Gdolim and Yeladim cut away and hauled large branches, Ktanim cleared a patch of ground shrubs and aerated the soil, under the watchful eye and aching backs of parents and teachers.

Afterward, Stacy Weinberg Dieve presented our hardworking teachers and helpers — Clare, Shlomit, Aaron; Zander, Avi, Rose — with tokens our our collective appreciation. We all then gathered at the Pavilion to sing a Hebrew prayer and learn a two-part round from Rabbi Ora, after which we feasted on a variety of seasonal, vegetarian dishes prepared by Beit Sefer families: vegetable casserole, brioche, fruits, challah. The weather was literally perfect, and the children spent the time afterward running and frolicking in the playground. All in all, a wonderfully successful day!

Beit Sefer Students help lead Saturday Morning Shabbat Services

Last weekend’s Second Saturday Shabbat service was such a treat! We had the pleasure of listening to the thoughts and insight of our brilliant young G’dolim students. In preparation for their bnei mitzvah, the students practiced analyzing the parsha, asking meaningful questions, and participating in the Torah service.

Miles leading the congregation in a discussion about Torah portion Metzora

This week’s “Revolution Hebrew” lesson addressed the meaning of the word Torah. Congregants shared insights into how they felt the Torah had influenced their lives and how they have interacted with the text over time. The G’dolim had a lot to say about this topic. It was fascinating to hear how they are grappling with the material and how they understand the Torah to be a part of their lives.

Sylvie reading the English translation of this week’s Torah portion

One student commented that reading Torah was a process of “receiving knowledge,” while another felt that it was like “swimming in a stream of knowledge.” Another astute G’dolim student questioned the phrase ‘The One” as a way of addressing God, and examined what that means in terms of our understanding of God and Torah. It is amazing that these young students, most of them 12 years old, had the ability to deeply engage with this material.

Sam discussing his interpretation of Metzora

The students rounded out the service with a discussion of lashon hara, or “gossip.” They queried the function of gossip in our society and why it occurs. They asked for input from the congregation and led a lively discussion on the possible role of gossip as a useful tool for understanding ourselves and communicating within a community.

We look forward to hearing these students discuss their own Torah portions at their bnei mitzvah!

If you would like to get involved in Beit Sefer or start the process of Bnei Mitzvah,please see our website for more information. Jewish education is vibrant and alive at the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation!

Planning to Plant Trees

AARC Plans to Plant Trees to Celebrate Tu B’Shvat

It may be hard to imagine a bright sunny day in spring where AARC’s Beit Sefer students will frolic in a green meadow, picking out spots to plant new trees. But worry not! Under the guidance of Beit Sefer director, Clare Kinberg, students and their parents are making plans to do just that!

Entrance to our planting site, County Farm Park

Plans are in the works to plant fruit trees in County Farm Park’s Permaculture garden. Stay tuned for more info about our very exciting planting day!

Tu B’Shvat, or the New Year of the Trees, reminds us that in these dark days of winter, our trees are resting a slumber necessary to foster new growth. Tu B’Shvat is often celebrated as an ecological conservation day in which Jews around the world plant trees in honor of the holiday. We will remember this moment with gratitude in the spring when we are reveling in our advanced planning to enjoy this special tree planting activity.

An example of a Sugar Maple tree available through the Washtenaw Conservation District

Beit Sefer will be planting some fruit trees. If you are inspired by this and would like to order your own native trees or shrubs visit Washtenaw Conservation Districtto order for your home.

Beit Sefer Gets Close in for Simchat Torah

Rabbi Ora and congregants unroll our Torah scroll, believed to be over 200 years old.

Beit Sefer learning about Simchat Torah and preparing to search the scroll for specific words.

Searching the scroll

 

AARC board member and Beit Sefer parent Caroll Ullmann getting close to the Torah with her kids.

Dave Nelson sharing the Simchat Torah blessing.

 

Parading for Simchat Torah with our Etz Chaim tapestry in the lead.

Beit Sefer Builds a Sukkah 2018

This year, 2018, our Beit Sefer tried something new: A Beit Sefer Sukkah Building Sleepover. Beit Sefer families and a few prospective member families were welcomed by Carole Caplan and Michael Sosin to build our traditional sukkah, and then to sleep over under the stars at The Farm on Jennings. Five families, nine kids set up tents and spent the night. Then early Sunday morning had breakfast and welcomed the rest of Beit Sefer for learning about the four species in the lulav and other Sukkot traditions. Tremedous thanks to Matt McLane for many lessons in campout cooking, to Carol Ullmann for shopping, setting up my tent, creating the beautiful etrog suncatchers, and many other things. and to all the parents for making the Sukkot Sleepover happen. Hope the pictures convey the fun!

The sukkah building begins.

The frame of the sukkah goes up.

The sukkah walls go up

 

 

 

The decorating table.

Beit Sefer Director Clare Kinberg attempts to direct traffic during sukkah building.

Collecting the s’kach, roof coverings.

 

We learn the parts of the lulav.

The myrtle smells good.

After all the hard work, have some cookout dinner!

 

Parents relax and warm up by the camp fire.

 

The next morning: K’tanim learn about Sukkot on the farm.

G’dolim discuss how to make the sukkah a welcoming place for
ushpizin/honored guests.

 

Sukkot Sameah/Happy Sukkot Thanks, Fred Feinberg for all the photos.

AARC Beit Sefer/Religious School 2018: Building Bridges

Rabbi Ora singing with the Beit Sefer

Enrollment is open for the 2018-2019 AARC Beit Sefer/Religious School year! On this page you will find links to both the enrollment form and the tuition form. Teachers Aaron Jackson, Shlomit Cohen and Beit Sefer Director Clare Kinberg are looking forward to a great year of building bridges. In fact, that will be our theme for the year: Livnot Gesher/Building Bridges. Bridges to our better selves, bridges to new friends, to our diverse communities, and to other faith communities.

We hope to see everyone (and any friends you have who may be thinking of joining the congregation or enrolling in Beit Sefer) at our

Annual Congregation Picnic and BBQ
August 26th, 2018
Noon to 3pm
Lillie Park North Shelter (closest to Ellsworth)

Members and Beit Sefer families, you can sign up to help with the picnic here.

The fall offers many opportunities for new families to connect with AARC and our Beit Sefer. In addition to to the picnic, we will again be having children’s services during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The first day of Beit Sefer will be September 16 at the JCC. That’s right in between Rosh Hashanah (erev RH is Sept 9) and Yom Kippur. The next weekend we’ll be building our sukkah at the Farm on Jennings as we do every year, but this year we are trying something new! We’ll build the sukkah on Saturday afternoon and stay for an optional sleep over! Please contact Clare Kinberg (ckinberg@gmail.com) or Beit Sefer Committee chair Stacy Dieve (stacyweinberg@gmail.com) with any questions, suggestions of potential new students, or with offers to help with the picnic and sukkah building/sleep over.

 

Our Measure of Grain

“Memorial Tablet and Omer Calendar” by Baruch Zvi Ring, 1904. Paper cut, pencil, ink and paint. Owned by the Jewish Museum in NYC. Baruch Zvi Ring (Ringiansky) came to Rochester from Vishya, Lithuania, in 1902. Please visit this artwork on the Jewish Museum website to learn more about the incredible intricacies in this work.

Our Beit Sefer, led by our Yeledim class (Bass, Ben, Ellie, Isaac, Joey, Miles, Molly, and their teacher, Shlomit) is collecting boxes of grains (pasta, cereal, rice, etc) to make a collective donation to Food Gatherers. We started collecting right after Passover and we will continue through Shavuot. By collecting donations for the Food Gatherers, the Yeledim are learning to connect the Jewish holiday cycle with a need in our community.

We are commanded by the Torah to bring, on the second day of Passover, a measure—an omer—of the first cutting of our barley harvest to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as an offering to G‑d, and not to partake of that year’s grain crop until that offering is made. We then count 49 days, and on the 50th day, which is Shavuot, we bring the first of our wheat harvest as an offering to G‑d, and we do not use of the year’s wheat crop for Temple offerings until this is done. Hence, the 49-day count leading from Passover to Shavuot is called “the Counting of the Omer”—a reference to the omer of barley that was brought on the first day of the count.
(from “Grain, Growth and Goodness” by R. Shlomo Yaffe)

The Yeledim have set a goal of collecting as least 49 boxes of grain, one for each day of the Omer. And you can help! We will be collecting this Saturday, May 12th at the JCC during Second Saturday Shabbat morning services, and also at our congregational observance of Shavuot on Saturday May 19th.